This focus exhibition is the first to unite the series of four whaling scenes made by the British landscapist Joseph Mallord William Turner (1775–1851) near the end of his career. The quartet of paintings—comprising The Met's Whalers and its three companions in the Tate, London—were among the last seascapes exhibited by Turner, for whom marine subjects were a creative mainstay. Shown in pairs at the Royal Academy in London in 1845 and 1846, the whaling canvases confounded critics with their "tumultuous surges" of brushwork and color, which threatened to obscure the motif, yet the pictures earned admiration for the brilliance and vitality of their overall effects.
The exhibition also highlights connections between Turner's whaling scenes and Herman Melville's 1851 whaling epic Moby-Dick. It is not certain that Melville saw the paintings when he first visited London in 1849, but he was unquestionably aware of them, and aspects of his novel are strikingly evocative of Turner's style. The exhibition offers viewers an opportunity to assess for themselves whether the British artist inspired one of the crowning achievements of American literature.
The exhibition is made possible by the William S. Lieberman Fund, the Janice H. Levin Fund, and the Lillian Goldman Charitable Trust.
The publication is made possible by the William S. Lieberman Fund.
The Met's quarterly Bulletin program is supported in part by the Lila Acheson Wallace Fund for The Metropolitan Museum of Art, established by the cofounder of Reader's Digest.
Joseph Mallord William Turner (British, 1775–1851). Whalers (detail), ca. 1845. Oil on canvas, 36 1/8 x 48 1/4 in. (91.8 x 122.6 cm). The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, Catharine Lorillard Wolfe Collection, Wolfe Fund, 1896 (96.29)